The Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson, was first published in 1959.
The first sentence is: “No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream.”
Dr. John Montague is a doctor of philosophy, with a degree in anthropology. He feels that his true vocation is that of an investigator of “supernatural manifestations”. He has gone to considerable expense to rent Hill House for three months, because Hill House is supposedly haunted. Dr. Montague hopes to recoup his experiences with a paper he will publish on his findings while living there.
He sends out twelve letters to carefully chosen people who might wish to stay with him in Hill House and help him observe unusual occurrences. Those twelve letters receive four replies. To those four, he sends detailed instructions, with the time, location, and so forth. Of those four, two people arrive at Hill House: Eleanor and Theodora.
Eleanor Vance is 32-years-old. She’d spent the past eleven years caring for her invalid mother. This is partly why she has no friends. She was chosen by Dr. Montague because when she was 12-years-old, following the death of her father, stones fell from the sky for three days.
For Eleanor, a three-month stay in Hill House is her chance to be free, to assert herself, and to become her own person.
Theodora (who doesn’t use a last name) signs her artwork “Theo”. She’s an outgoing, flamboyant, free spirit – the opposite of Eleanor. She was chosen by Dr. Montague because of her demonstrated psychic ability.
Luke Sanderson is a petty thief. His aunt owns Hill House. Someday, Luke will inherit Hill House, but didn’t think he’d ever live there. He’ll be staying at Hill House only because his aunt had insisted that, because of the nature of Dr. Montague’s proposed work, a legal clause be added to the rental agreement stating that a Sanderson family member be on the property while Dr. Montague is there.
The caretakers, Mr. and Mrs. Dudley, refuse to stay in Hill House after dark.
Hill House is an eighty-year-old Victorian mansion build among hills. It is overly large, with an over-abundance of towers, turrets, and Gothic decorations. It is a maze of hallways and rooms-within-rooms. It was built in ways that purposely disorient its occupants.
The Haunting of Hill House is a classic haunted house story. Four people stay in a creepy, dark, old mansion with a disreputable history. Things go bump in the night.
(“God God – whose hand was I holding?” is one seriously creepy line.)
It’s a character-driven novel. The book spends a long time introducing the characters – especially Eleanor – before anything scary occurs. Dr. Montague, Eleanor, Theodora, and Luke all become instant friends, and treat their visit like some elaborate cocktail party. Mrs. Dudley provides comic relief for everyone except herself, with her strict adherence to the food schedule.
Soon into the story, it becomes clear that The Haunting of Hill House is Eleanor’s story, more than anyone else’s. She and Theodora become great friends (and maybe more? This was 1959, and I suspect there’s some coded language in the novel). With Theodora, Eleanor finds the first real friend she’s ever had, and wants to continue the friendship beyond their stay at Hill House. Theodora loves Eleanor, but sees their friendship as nothing more than a fling.
I absolutely loved this book. It has a little bit of everything. It’s creepy and scary and funny and touching, and it all blends in well. It’s wonderfully written. I loved the story, and I loved Shirley Jackson’s style of telling it.
Why I chose this book:
Before I found a book with alliteration in the title, I had to learn what “alliteration” means. I found the definition, but it seemed so simple that I wasn’t entirely sure if I understood it fully. With that out of the way, I did an internet search for “book with alliteration in the title”, and found lists containing books like Doctor Dolittle, Black Beauty, and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. I stopped searching when I found The Haunting of Hill House, because it was the first book title I came across with a triple alliteration (that’s not actually a term, I later learned). Plus, it was by Shirley Jackson. I’d read Jackson’s The Lottery and We Have Always Lived in the Castle, and loved them both, so I welcomed the chance to read something else by her.